Monday, 21 May 2018

Being Mental Health Aware

As mental health awareness week 2018 comes to an end I have been struck by the different aspects that I have heard being discussed over media and elsewhere.

I have heard very articulate people on radio phone-ins, and I guess I come into that category - well enough to explain my experience to others.  Alongside this I also encounter those in long term care accommodation due to their mental health.  

Mental health is just like physical health – there is a wide range of conditions and a wide range of levels you could be affected within each condition.  There are those who have acute episodes of an illness. It is horrendous but time limited and when someone emerges from it they may never have another experience like it again.   There are those who have recurring and relapsing illnesses – each episode will resolve itself but the person knows it will come again, not knowing when or how but that it will come.

Then there are those who live constantly with an illness. Compare to those who live with constant physical pain – you stop telling people how much it hurts because people like to hear about how things are improving, not that life is just day and night of background pain.  The same goes for emotional pain, the agony of the soul.  We may get tired of saying that it hurts so we respond in a neutral way to ‘How are you?’ with something like ‘plodding along, and you?’.  So you may not realise how hard it is for some to do the basic things day by day.  Physical and mental illness can have invisible symptoms, but symptoms that drain people and make doing the normal things a great achievement.

Constant illness can be mild or massively intense, it may lead to living life with a mental limp but still striding out there. Or it may lead to life totally shaped and consumed by the illness.  Some will not be able to live day by day without support. No matter how much the closure of the Victorian asylums was needed, there will always be the minority who need residential levels of care.

Please don’t assume that knowing one person’s experience of an illness, even your own, tells you about someone else’s experience. We can have the same label but very different experiences, we may be stable, well, for long periods but still live under the shadow of the relapse.  We may learn to live with the permanent mental limp. And for some poor mental health is terminal.  This is the sad reality.

If you want to help or walk alongside us then ask us about our own experiences, and listen to what we say, helping us to dare to say what we need to. And if this is you may you have the strength to ask for help and you will be surprised – 1 in 4, we are everywhere, no-one should have to face poor mental health alone.

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